On November 17, 2003 a new Alaska QRP record was set. Eleven Alaska QRP operators were on the air at the same time with the expressed goal of working as many stations as possible no matter how poor the propagation might be. How did this all come about and what happened? This is a report on the first Great Alaska Ptarmigan (GAP) Hunt.
In early August 2003, I began to think in terms of running a one time (at least to start) Alaska Fox Hunt on 20 meters. The plan was to enlist Alaska-based Alaska QRP Club members to operate a given 2 hour period with from one up to five or more Foxes spread from .050 to .065. We would use the same format as the Spartan Sprint of RST, S/P/C, power out. I had some ideas for awards for the top couple of contestants. At some point it was suggested that it might be better for Alaska to use something other than Fox Hunt. Suggestions were received such as Polar Bear Hunt, Kodiak Bear Hunt, Alaska Fox, Grizzly Hunt, and so on. Eventually this question was presented at the Alaska QRP Club monthly meeting and after a short discussion we all agreed to call ourselves Ptarmigan… Great Alaska Ptarmigan (GAP) to be exact. Thus the GAP operators of Alaska were born.
A date was selected for the GAP Hunt and the call went out for Ptarmigan. I had been hoping to get at least six GAP for this hunt and in very short order I had 14 QRP operators lined up and ready to go. This meant one Ptarmigan every 3 KHz from 14.026 to 14.064. We literally were going to be hidden in amongst the brush known as all the other CW operators on the band.
AL7FS, Jim Larsen, practicing for a future Ptarmigan Hunt.
The Great Alaska Ptarmigan who actually operated were as follows:
KL7R Mike Juneau
AL7FS Jim Anchorage
KL7IKV Lynn Anchorage
KL7CC Jim Anchorage
KL7GN Gordon Anchorage
WL7CDC Doug Anchorage
KL7PB Rich Sterling
KLØWN John Kodiak
AL7N Ed Fairbanks
KY7J Ken Emmonak - on the Bearing Sea
AL1G Corliss Anchorage
Sunday afternoon of the Ptarmigan Hunt arrived and it was time to get on the air. The excitement of the hunt must have addled my brain as I spent the first 2-3 minutes transmitting into the coax on the back of my Elecraft K2. I had forgotten to switch the beam from the Kenwood over to the K2. Having fixed that problem, I began calling CQ GAP. I could tell right away this was going to be a tough two hours and unfortunately not enough attention had been paid to the 27 day sun cycle. We ended up with a high A and K index that day and with aurora. (SFI:121 A:31 K:4 Au:9)
WL7CDC, Doug Stowers, 2nd place Ptarmigan
In spite of the propagation, 113 QSOs were made during the two hours by the eleven Great Alaska Ptarmigan. There were 13 states/provinces contacted including CA, WA, NM, AK, TX, AZ, OR, ID, HI, OK, GA, LA and BC. The high honors for the Ptarmigan went to KL7CC, Jim Wiley, who made 18 QSOs. WL7CDC, Doug Stowers had 15 QSOs. AL1G had 13 while AL7FS, KL7GN, KL7PB and KL0WN all had 12 QSOs.
KL7GN, Gordon Nightingale – Great Alaska Ptarmigan
The Ptarmigan Hunters that could hear us did well. KG6WP, K7TQ, W6AZ and N1SB all worked 8 to 10 GAP stations. That is amazing given the band conditions.
Here are a few comments from some of the Ptarmigan.
AL1G Corliss Kimmel
I was heavy into the Sweepstakes contest on 15m, not paying attention to the time. Frank came over and said..uh, when are you supposed to be starting the Ptarmigan thing? I looked the time and it was after 3pm....eeeeeeek!!!
So I quickly made the switch to 14035...started to transmit but the paddles weren't working. Hmmm...took me a couple seconds to realize the mode was still set to SSB :-)
I didn't get any answers at first, so I decided to hunt down the other Ptarmigans. I would go get one, and then go back to CQing. None of the out-of-state stations I worked was tough copy, all were weak but very readable. There was a phantom K0 station that would fade in, send the call 3 or 4 times and then fade out every time I acknowledged the call. There was one station calling who obviously was not part of the GAP hunt, as he gave me only a signal report. I asked for the state, he sent that. But after I asked for his power level, he had gone. I logged him anyway as it was a valid Q.
I couldn't hear all of the Ptarmigans, but worked all the ones I heard. I really wanted to work Kodiak, as I lived there for 8 years and wanted to have a Q with my old home town. Maybe next time!.
After the GAP was done, I went back to the maelstrom of the last hour of Sweepstakes.
I enjoyed being part of the Ptarmigan Hunt and would certainly do it again.
Thanks! Corliss - AL1G
KL0WN John Pfeifer
My biggest challenge was getting back on the air before the GAP Hunt began. My fancy, automatic antenna tuner blew up a few days earlier and I was without a tuner for my one-and-only antenna, a 44-foot doublet hanging 50-feet up between a couple of spruce trees.
I found a used Johnson Matchbox for a reasonable price on Ebay and--fortunately--had the winning bid. It arrived in the mail Friday, just a couple of days before the Hunt. I spent most of Sunday morning hooking it up, but--when time came to try it out--I couldn't get a good match on 20-meters. I think my open-wire feeder just happens to be an unlucky length for that band and is presenting an unmatchable impedance.
As a last resort, I dug out my trusty Emtech ZM-2--which can tune up the proverbial wet noodle--and voila, it brought the SWR down to 1.1-to-1. All this happened at 2330z--just 30 minutes before the Hunt ...whew.
I originally hoped to use my Elecraft K1 for the Hunt, but with all the time I spent futzing around with my antenna, I didn't have a chance to replace the crystal that had failed on the 20m filter board. Fortunately, I was able to reduce power on my Ten-Ten Omni V.9 to 4.5 watts, as measured on my OHR WM-2 wattmeter. Actually, the Omni proved to be an excellent QRP rig. The extra receive sensitivity really helped pull out those weak signals.
The last time I did anything vaguely like the GAP Hunt was last summer's Flight of the Bumble Bees. Propagation was even worse then, and I only had one contact. So, being a Bee didn't do much to prepare me for being a Ptarmigan. I was very worried that propagation would be *too good* and I'd find myself on the receiving end of a pile-up. Fortunately, things got off to a slow start, and I had a chance to get used to the routine.
The first station to call was KH6HE in Hawaii. After that, several stations in the Pacific Northwest and California pounced. Although propagation was--as expected--quite poor, there were a couple of brief openings. W4FOA, way down in Georgia, blasted through with a 559 signal about two-thirds of the way through. Right before Ptarmigan season closed, at 0152z, there was another brief burp in the ionosphere and two more southern stations came into view: KL7V/5 in Oklahoma and KQ5U in Texas.
Even on the downward slope of the solar cycle, 5 watts into a dipole can still provide some excitement. All it takes is a little patience on both the transmitting and receiving end. I hope the Great Alaskan Ptarmigan hunt becomes a regular QRP event. It's a great way to encourage more contacts between Alaskan QRPers and the "Lower-49" states.
John Pfeifer - KL0WN Kodiak, Alaska
KL7CC, Jim Wiley, 1st place Ptarmigan
The first Great Alaska Ptarmigan Hunt is history. We all had a good time and want to do this again. Our plan calls for watching the A index for the quietest time and trying to guess what dates will be best allowing for the 27 day cycles of the sun. The Ptarmigan of Alaska hope you will all try to listen for us when next we have another Great Alaska Ptarmigan Hunt.
Jim Larsen, AL7FS